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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, Madness, And The Fair That Changed America » User review

I wish this were two books instead of one...

  • Sep 2, 2006
  • by
This is an interesting book that I would have much preferred as two separate reading experiences... The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson.

Larson's book takes a look at an event in American history that was the birthplace of many things we take for granted today... Chicago's Worlds Fair, aka "The White City", that took place in the 1890's. The "devil" in the title is the true story of H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who murdered an unknown number of women during that time in rather gruesome and cold fashion. The narrative bounces back and forth between the people who took on the impossible task of topping the Paris Worlds Fair, and Holmes' shady past as a smooth womanizer with no morals or fear of killing. Holmes ends up in Chicago and builds a hotel/castle close to the fair. The building is custom-made to allow him to kill people with little or no chance of being discovered. With the influx of young women coming to Chicago for jobs, he has no problems befriending (and marrying) these women, getting whatever property of value they have, and then making them disappear. It's amazing that even when confronted with accusations about the deaths, he's able to deflect the attention elsewhere and become a sympathetic figure. The closure of the fair brings his time in Chicago to an end, and the authorities start to tie together the clues to tie him to the murders. Although he was tried and hanged for a number of the deaths, it's uncertain as to how many people actually died at his hands.

This is a book that I am torn when it comes to rating and reviewing. On one hand, both stories are compelling. Holmes and his warped actions could be a story unto itself, and it would be a book that would be hard to put down. The story of what Chicago accomplished with the fair is mind-boggling. They had 25 months to do something that took Paris years, the obstacles in terms of weather, land, money, and a hundred other things should have doomed the event, and yet it was acknowledged to be even greater than its predecessor. That event was the birth of such things as the Ferris Wheel, Shredded Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, and the turning point in the battle of AC vs DC power in America. Again, an entire book just on the Chicago story would have been an incredible read. And I think that's my problem... The main characters in each story don't really intersect, and I felt as if I was reading two parallel books that just happened to occur at the same place and time. As such, I was left wanting more of both stories and didn't feel quite satisfied with either the way they were told here...

To be clear, this is a good read. I'm likely to pick up another book that focuses exclusively on the fair, as I think it's a significant event that I never quite understood. But I still feel as if Larson could have written two books here, and the story would have been better told on both sides...

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More The Devil In The White City: M... reviews
review by . September 30, 2008
Creepy-cool history of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, intertwined with the history of the serial killer H. H. Holmes who was operating at and around the Fair and may have accounted for anywhere from 9 (confirmed) to 50 (suspected) to even 200 (conjectured) murders.     Reads like an atmospheric slasher novel, except it is history, and thoroughly footnoted from contemporary accounts as well as secondary sources. The couple of scenes where Larson assumes an omniscient authorial …
review by . May 19, 2010
Murder, Mayhem, and National Pride
Erik Larson must have spent a year just doing the research for The Devil in the White City. I probably learned more about our nation's history from reading this book than I did in an entire college course. In the book, Larson combines two stories: the story of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the story of H.H. Holmes, one of the U.S.'s first serial killers. This is an incredible story, and each page of the book is filled with little tidbits that make you think, "Hmm...why did …
review by . October 09, 2010
As Chicago entered the final decade of the 19th century, it was a black city with a black heart, a figurative and literal pig sty run by a civil administration rife with graft and dominated by the stink of the pig slaughtering industry that was run by the local equivalent of capitalist robber barons. In a shocking affront to New York City's insufferable sense of superiority, Chicago's city fathers somehow won the right to host the 1893 World Fair. Despite the astonishing crime rates, the …
Quick Tip by . October 09, 2010
An interesting, informative and exciting juxtaposition of two wildly different historical events that took place in Chicago - the creation of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the terror of America's first documented serial killer, Dr H.H. Holmes.
review by . July 15, 2010
I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction but this book was amazing. I was spellbound as I read. The author did a great job of describing the time period, it made me almost sad to live now and not then. I was in awe at the descriptions of architecture and building even though I previously had no experience with either of these. That, combined with the descriptions of the "evil" guy's psychotic personality was a great combination that kept me turning the pages. I would recommend …
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
good stuff, learned a lot and got freaked out!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Loved this! Great look at a unique moment in history and a little known serial killer - nicely woven into one.
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
An excellent combining of history with imagination. Erik Larsen weaves plots together in this book with great skill!
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
Enjoyed the dark subject matter and historical recount of the world's fair.
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Thomas Duff ()
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Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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The 1893 Chicago World's Fair is the setting for this true account of two very different men: the celebrated architect Daniel H. Burnham, who designed and supervised the construction of the "White City" around which the fair was built; and H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett), a fiendishly clever serial killer posing as a doctor, who murdered scores of people, mostly young women, in his World's Fair Hotel, which contained a gas chamber and a handy crematorium for disposing of his victims. Telling their entwined stories in alternating points of view, Erik Larson illuminates the lives of these two men, but also provides insightful commentary on the changes that were taking place in American society that allowed both phenomena--a grandiose World's Fair and a string of unsolved murders--to take place. The book contains cameo appearances by such late-19th-century celebrities as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.
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Books, Book, Cafe Libri, Usa, History, 19th Century, Chicago Worlds Fair


ISBN-10: 0375725601
ISBN-13: 978-0375725609
Author: Erik Larson
Genre: History
Publisher: Vintage
Date Published: May 03, 2005
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